The Benefits of CHYP
Brought to you by Creative Healing for Youth in Pain's Parenting Blog
Last week, CHYP held a fundraiser in the beautiful backyard of a generous homeowner. There were practitioners, parents, patients, administrators, family, and friends in attendance. Everyone was there to support this unique, wonderful organization. Speeches were given about how CHYP has positively impacted people’s lives, and artwork was shared in the form of visual arts, music, and poetry.
The themes of the speakers were that CHYP has provided an artistic awakening and outlet, as well as a sense of belonging and community. CHYP has been a bright light in the midst of despair. So, I wanted to touch upon these themes to reiterate how you as a parent can use these insights to help your own child through this difficult and sometimes very dark journey.
The Benefits of Engaging in Art
Obviously, CHYP has “Creative Healing” in its name for a reason! Evidence has shown that creative outlets are helpful both in the moment and in rewiring the brain for more lasting improvement. Writing, drawing, singing, cooking, gardening, and dancing can all help a person heal from past traumas. So much of what your kids have endured is medical trauma, piled on top of the trauma they are already facing from their symptoms as well as the isolation that comes with them.
Whether or not the art created is specifically about your child’s experience, it is helpful to have this creative outlet. There are many benefits—singing, for example, involves the type of breathing that is soothing to the nervous system. There is also a pride that comes with creating (if the art is tangible) or improving on an artistic skill (such as playing an instrument).
Being involved in a creative pursuit is a complex sensory experience that helps draw attention to the activity and the experience instead of the pain. It is not a desperate act of distraction, but rather a soothing alternative to focusing on pain.
Creativity is very mindful, keeping patients locked in the present tense experience, through their senses, while they’re making their art. Often, they will say that they do not notice their pain while they are engaging in their creative activity. Over time, any break from the attention to pain helps reduce the pain signaling. With repeated and prolonged breaks in the pain signaling, eventually, the pain moves more to the background rather than the forefront of attention.
One of the teens at the fundraiser read some of his poems that were inspired by a CHYP poetry workshop. He commented that when he was isolated, demoralized about getting behind in school, and no longer able to engage or excel in sports, it was invaluable to realize that creativity could be another outlet. As a bonus, it helped him express what he was going through.
So, if your child engaged in something creative before their symptoms started, encourage them to continue their art. Get them some supplies, make a space if you can for creating art, and have someone you or they know who is creative engage in the activity with them. If they have not done anything creative in the past, go to Michaels together and find what piques their interest, or get some clay just to play with.
Some kids have been introduced to making music online or making art on an iPad. Some kids who have played musical instruments in the past have been encouraged to just play for one minute at a time to build up stamina. I even have had clients who enjoy color-by-numbers. You can plant a garden with your child and have him choose the flowers you are going to plant. It doesn’t matter what it is. But help your child explore possibilities.
In other blogs, I have written about finding ways for your child to reconnect with friends. This is vital to their recovery. It can also be incredibly helpful to join a CHYP group. The pandemic highlighted for all of us how important community is—once it was lost during the shutdown we realized what we were missing. We all got a chance to experience what young people with chronic pain go through so much of the time. The isolation of the pandemic further traumatized many youths who had been isolated by chronic pain because it was a reminder of what they experienced during the worst of their symptoms.
We have seen a skyrocketing surge in anxiety and depression since the pandemic, much of which is due to the isolation that resulted from going to school online and working from home. This anxiety and depression from isolation has always been evident in our patients with chronic pain and other medical illnesses that keep them at home. This isolation leads to anxiety and depression, which then makes their symptoms worse, creating a vicious cycle.
CHYP provides a sense of community for youth and their parents. When young people have not been able to go out to see friends, having an online group supplies much-needed companionship. Even when youth with chronic pain can spend some time with friends, often it feels lonely to know that their friends cannot understand what they are going through. With CHYP, even though they rarely ever discuss their pain, it is a given that the other members understand their experience. That sense of belonging is life-changing. To feel understood and part of a community is so vital to healing.
Often, in my parent groups, parents will cry during the first session when we make our introductions. They feel so emotional to finally meet other parents who have been through similar experiences and don’t have to feel so alone in their suffering.
Finding the Silver Lining
The third theme I noticed at the CHYP fundraiser was how CHYP helps the participants find a silver lining amid suffering. They have learned artistic skills that they never knew they had. One example is a past chronic pain patient who had been an athlete who discovered photography through CHYP.
Youth and parents have both made friends that they would not have made otherwise. The first CHYP youth group and camp stayed in touch with each other for more than a year after their session ended, and these friendships were helpful to them through their trying times. My first parent Creating Bonds group from 2 years ago still meets monthly and has now met in person for a special gathering. Some of these parents have formed close friendships with each other, which have been invaluable to them.
CHYP has also inspired some youth to pursue a helping profession because of their experiences. Others have learned how to help others through CHYP, such as the woman who spoke at the fundraiser who suffers from chronic pain and became a counselor for CHYP. This experience helped her, as well as her campers. One past pain patient, who is now a young adult artist, led a workshop for CHYP on cartoon drawing. That experience inspired him to pursue an art therapy degree and use his art to help others.
No one would choose to have a chronic pain disorder, but so many of the parents and their kids who have been involved in CHYP have found silver linings from both their experiences with CHYP and from their journeys overall. I encourage you to help your child find their silver linings. Their negative feelings and experiences should always be validated first. But then, help your child see how they made a friend that they would not have otherwise, found a creative passion that they may not have discovered, or decided on a career path that they hadn’t considered before.
They may be surprised to realize that they were more resilient than they imagined they would be. Point out how brave your child has been and how this experience shows they can get through anything in the future. Show your child how they have learned to appreciate the small pleasures in life, such as sitting in the healing sun or watching paint smear across a canvas. They (and you) may not be used to noticing all of the silver linings, so pay attention and look for them together.